Magazine article The Spectator

Clues and Hints

Magazine article The Spectator

Clues and Hints

Article excerpt

Do you remember the way people used to joke about American tourists? The stories about them standing in the middle of Oxford, wearing apple-green trousers and asking where the University was? You don't hear those stories any more. Possibly because the average American is now better dressed and better educated than the average Briton. It is our rulers and our media who see this country as a kinda cute place, inhabited by P.G. Wodehouse characters dressed in 1930s clothing. Nowhere is this made clearer than in the debate on fox-hunting.

Whether people want to ban fox-hunting as cruel, or defend it as a civil liberty, they will describe it as brain-dead toffs in pink jackets galloping across the countryside. What planet are they living on? If a toff is a member of the aristocracy or the country gentry then, indeed, you will find a small number of them following some hunts on some days. Perhaps as many as five per cent of the field. The vast majority of toffs are, instead, stippling drawing-rooms for people like Cherie Blair, or earning big bucks at clearing banks. (If toffs were really as thick or as unadaptable as John Humphrys supposes, they wouldn't have survived this long, would they?)

On a swanky hunt like the Quorn another five per cent of the field might be made up of self-made multi-millionaires: property developers, pop stars and the like. The remaining 90 per cent are farmers, who hunt for free, professionals who work hard to pay their subscription, ex-miners, housewives, children and the disabled. It is the inclusivity of fox-hunting that makes it so popular. Unlike drag-hunting, which resembles a steeplechase, fox-hunting can be enjoyed by good riders and bad, on thoroughbreds or hairy ponies. Many fox hunters have taken up riding in middle age. And most of the pensioners who follow the hunt in cars and on foot have never sat on a horse in their lives. …

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